Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Book 2: Of the knowledge of God the Redeemer, in Christ, as first manifested to the fathers, under the law, and thereafter to us under the gospel.

Chapter 2: “Man Now Deprived of Freedom of Will, and Miserably Enslaved”

Section 5: In general, the proponents of free will only grant to man free will for intermediate things – not things like righteousness and salvation. Ambrose described the will as having three parts, “sensitive, animal, and spiritual”, and it was only to the first two that he stated man was free to control. They also state that free will only applies to obedience required by the divine law. Quoting Calvin on this topic, “The schools, however, have adopted a distinction which enumerates three kinds of freedom (see Lombard, lib. 2 Dist. 25); the first, a freedom from necessity; the second, a freedom from sin; and the third, a freedom from misery: the first naturally so inherent in man, that he cannot possibly be deprived of it; while through sin the other two have been lost. I willingly admit this distinction, except in so far as it confounds necessity with compulsion. How widely the things differ, and how important it is to attend to the difference, will appear elsewhere.”

Section 6: All these things in view, it is impossible for man to produce good works unless he is assisted by grace; specifically the special grace given to the elect through regeneration. Lombard teaches that it is a twofold grace that leads men to do good works. The first, called “Operating”, is what we will to is good, and the second is “Cooperating” which succeeds the good will and aids it. This will be delved into in more detail in coming sections (ch 3 sec 10, ch 7 sect 9), but Calvin’s primary objection to this division is that it implies that man within himself is capable of desiring to do what is good. His secondary objection is the ambiguity found in the second portion which leads to error. Calvin states, “For it has been thought that we co-operate with subsequent grace, inasmuch as it pertains to us either to nullify the first grace, by rejecting it or to confirm it, by obediently yielding to it.” He then quotes De Vocatione Gentium to show the error, “It is free to those who enjoy the faculty of reason to depart from grace, so that the not departing is a reward, and that which cannot be done without the co-operation of the Spirit is imputed as merit to those whose will might have made it otherwise (lib. 2 cap. 4).” Concluding this section, Calvin states, “The division, however, shows in what respect free will is attributed to man. For Lombard ultimately declares (lib. 2 Dist. 25), that our freedom is not to the extent of leaving us equally inclined to good and evil in act or in thought, but only to the extent of freeing us from compulsion. This liberty is compatible with our being depraved, the servants of sin, able to do nothing but sin.”

Section 7: Calvin thus defines free will, “In this way, then, man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion.” He then states that any expansion outside of that definition gives too much authority to man to control his own destiny.

Section 8: The church fathers have been all over the board on the use of the term “free will”. Augustine, for instance, hesitates to call the will a “slave”, yet repudiates those who deny free will. Later he states, “without the Spirit the will of man is not free”. It is obvious then, that this is a tumultuous topic, in that Calvin states (and sources) numerous seeming flip-flops in stance from Augustine alone. Concluding this section, Calvin states, “I am unwilling to use it myself; and others if they will take my advice, will do well to abstain from it.” I agree.

Section 9: The author then addresses the view that some readers may take that he prejudiced his own view by only quoting Augustine and not other church fathers as well. He states that his reasoning was that it’s not his place to show all possible sides to the issue but to show that there are many good Christians who hold opposing views on this topic and some who even hold opposing views within themselves. The end of the matter is that all hold that man is inherently sinful and that our desires are only for our own pleasure to the exclusion of glorifying God. Quoting Calvin, “If there is nothing good in us; if man, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is wholly sin; if it is not even lawful to try how far the power of the will extends,—how can it be lawful to share the merit of a good work between God and man?”.

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